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June 21, 2013

'A monumental piece'

Denzel Ward's opportunities were many.

But the highly sought-after offensive tackle from Chicago said he found what he needed at Purdue, which he committed to Friday over fellow finalists Florida, Ohio State and Oklahoma, each of which had offered.

"I really liked the family environment and I had great connections with the staff and my family was really comfortable with the staff, as well," said Ward, who was previously committed to Michigan before parting ways with the Wolverines while wanting to take other visits. "I felt it was a place I could make an impact early and really shine throughout my college career there."

Purdue will expect as much from the 6-foot-9, 315-pounder, a player it coveted for an offensive line that is a prime need in the 2014 recruiting cycle.

The Boilermaker coaching staff didn't have to wait long. Ward visited for a spring practice, then returned last weekend for the program's elite camp.

Friday's visit was a formality, a chance for family to accompany Ward to campus and see it first-hand. Ward, who'll play his senior season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., said he traveled to West Lafayette today knowing he was committing.

"I wanted to get it over with early to focus on my senior year and not worry about recruiting," he said. "I'd like to help Purdue get a really good class together and off to a fast start next year so we can try to get to the Rose Bowl. I was trying to get my personal goals out of the way and just have a great senior year with my team and get my academics on a good roll."

Connections and familiarity won Ward over at Purdue.

Offensive coordinator John Shoop and O-line coach Jim Bridge were heavily involved in recruiting Ward.

But redshirt freshman running back Robert Gregory, Ward's cousin, certainly did his part.

"It was two things (about Purdue), really," Ward said. "One was being with my cousin, because he's always been like a big brother to me and we've always had a great relationship.

"The other thing was Coach Shoop and his experience as an offensive coordinator. He knows what he's doing and we're really going to try to get the ball down the field with a pro-style, smash-mouth offense."

Ward, Purdue hopes, can give it the sort of physical edge presence it'll require to do that.

He's 315 pounds right now, a surprisingly lean 315 pounds at that.

"It's my athleticism and my ability to put on strength and weight in time and still be able to move around well," Ward said of what sets him apart as a lineman. "I think my intellect to grasp the system and know what I'm doing and do it fast, that'll help me."

In recruiting, Ward hopes his commitment helps lead to others.

"Hopefully it'll let other guys know you can be a big recruit but still go to a school that maybe isn't as hot right now as some others, but you can make it that way yourself and build it," he said. "It's great for me knowing I can be a monumental piece coming in, especially with Coach Hazell being in his first year. That's a really big thing for me, just knowing I can be part of something."







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